Unexpected Outcomes in Weaving

Have you ever had the very best of intentions for something?  Ever had something turn out not quite as intended?  Both happened to me recently which led to me learning a few things.  It's what I would call a null-curriculum - learning something that wasn't intended.  Here's my story:

I'm all about recycling, repurposing and reusing whenever possible as I try to do my part in respecting the environment.  When I first ran across a yarn called bamboo cotton, I was quite excited.  Bamboo is a very fast-growing plant, and a sustainable crop, sometimes growing upwards of 1 foot or 30 cm in a single day!   Sounds perfect, right?  I mean, everyone seems to be using bamboo for something these days, whether it be biodegradable eating utensils or long-wearing bed sheets.

What I didn't know at the time was that the bamboo cotton I was so excited about is actually a blend of materials.  It's actually not one product but a clever combination of cotton and bamboo.  Cotton is grown and harvested and processed in the usual way and spun into thread which is then blended with rayon which is made from bamboo.  What is rayon you ask?  Rayon is a material that's been around for many years.  It's made from purified cellulose plant fibres which are usually made from bamboo or other appropriate wood material such as beechwood.  What I didn't know is that rayon is technically a semi-synthetic cellulose fibre that requires rather intense chemical processing which makes it a manufactured fibre, hence the semi-synthetic moniker.  While I was extremely excited about this new-to-me bamboo cotton, I became quite disappointed in my choice because I hadn't anticipated the 'intense chemical treatment' required to make the rayon which makes this not a great environmental choice.  Bamboo in itself is certainly an environmentally sound product  - it's just the process to create the rayon that isn't.

Now that I had the bamboo cotton, I needed to use it to make something.  I love the feel of the material, so I thought I would make a bath mitt that can perform double-duty!  A double-duty bath mitt you say?  How in the heck.....?  When you use bar soap, the bar gets smaller and smaller with use and eventually gets to a point where it's almost too small to handle and so many people will throw the leftovers away.  Such a waste - unless you take all of those little bits of soap and place them inside a bath mitt now called a soap bag!  Use the bath mitt to scrub your skin and exfoliate dead skin cells and remove any grime with the soap inside providing the cleaning power!  You actually don't need to wait though - feel free to place your soap inside the bath mitt, get it wet, lather up and enjoy your bath or shower!

Here's the finished bath mitt:

I was so very happy with how these turned out!  The waffle weave turned out better than I had expected.  This was the first time I had woven a fabric using waffle weave, which is quite a complicated pattern that uses 8 shafts on the loom and a very specific sequence of treadling (a treadle is a foot or hand lever that forces the various shafts up and down in a specific sequence to create the weaving pattern).  I even wove the loop used to hang the bath mitt up to dry between showers using a small Inkle loom.

What I wasn't expecting was the wad of material left inside the reed.  The reed is the part of a loom that is used to keep threads separated and to push or beat the weft threads into place to make the fabric. The reed is housed inside the 'beater bar' frame for this purpose. 

Each time a new weft thread is placed, the beater bar/reed is pulled towards the weaver all the way to the fabric edge, pushing the thread into place.  The beater bar/reed is returned to its starting place and the process starts all over again from the opposite side.  This means the reed is rubbing against all of the threads on each trip along the warp.  Next time you have an opportunity, look closely at a skein or ball of yarn.  Look at the thread - you'll see a bit of fuzz that runs along the entire surface of the yarn.  It was this 'fuzz' that was getting caught up in the reed. This is what happened:

This is a wad of fibres that were scraped off of the bamboo cotton threads during the weaving process that got caught up in the reed, creating a very dense, felt-like material.  What a chore it was getting that wad out of there!  It took me almost 3 hours to cut and tease that material out.  I was not amused.

I quite like the bath mitts/soap bags as do the people who have purchased them. Because of that feedback, I will continue to make them.  However, instead of using the bamboo cotton for the warp and weft, I think I'll use it just for the weft and save myself the grief of trying to get that wad of felted bamboo cotton out of the reed! 

In the meantime, I'll continue searching for better yarn options that aren't as hard on the environment to manufacture - or hard on me.  I can't control the learning aspect though (adds to the fun and mystery of weaving!).  While I can research materials and how to use them as best I can, sometimes learning 'just happens', as it did in this case.  And that's a good thing!


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